On July 25th the US Ambassador to Tunisia, Jake Walles, attended a reception in his honor sponsored by UW’s International Programs and held in the AHC’s George Rentschler Room. Prior to the formal start of the reception—indeed, delaying that start because of the crowd of attendees diverted from the Rentschler Room—the Ambassador was invited to view some AHC collection material related to Tunisia. You might be asking yourself three questions: why would the Tunisian ambassador visit Wyoming; why would the Ambassador’s reception be held at the Center; Tunisian materials from AHC collections, really? Let’s try to answer each in turn.
Ambassador Walles presented his credentials to the Republic of Tunisia on July 24, 2012. Previously, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, responsible for U.S. policy with respect to Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians. For more than twenty years, he was an active participant in U.S. efforts to promote peace in the Middle East dating back to the 1991 Madrid Conference.
Why did he visit Wyoming? Actually, this was at least the second visit of a US Ambassador to Tunisia in three years. One successful connection between the state of Wyoming and Tunisia is a National Guard partnership program that paired Wyoming’s National Guard with Tunisia to demonstrate the effectiveness of having a civilian military and the importance of civilian control of the military.
As military interactions progressed, UW was asked to join the partnership in 2005, beginning with discussions with Outreach School Dean Maggi Murdock. Later, the International Programs Office obtained a Middle East Partnership Initiative grant from the U.S. Department of State. UW added an Arabic language instructor and established opportunities for students to visit Tunisia in the summer, mainly at a University in Southern Tunisia called Sfax, which became the center of many student protests at the start of the Arab Spring.
Then-Prime Minister Caid Essebsi requested a U.S. degree program for Tunisian students at reduced costs, as a result of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Tunisia in spring 2011. That fall, U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia Gordon Gray visited Wyoming, meeting with Gov. Matt Mead and members of the Wyoming Legislature, and also with several UW faculty and administrators. UW’s Tunisian Student Program was the result. Thus, Wyoming and UW have several ties to Tunisia. Why was the reception in the Rentschler Room? That room is one of the most attractive and significant on campus. The room is home to ten important western paintings—nine Henry Farnys and one Frederic Remington. These paintings appear as they did in the library of George Adam Rentschler, New York businessman and western enthusiast. Learn more about the Rentschler Room here.
The entrance to the Rentschler Room is but three steps away from that of our Toppan Rare Books Library. There, we had set out some manuscript material and a rare pamphlet in hopes they might be of some interest to the Ambassador and some of the other attendees. We were surprised when the director of International Programs led the Ambassador and his Wyoming National Guard entourage into the AHC early, and shepherded them directly in to Toppan. There they stayed, joined by an increasing number of arriving attendees, until the library was completely full of people. Nobody was attending to the buffet supper or gazing at the Rentschler paintings—they were all looking and talking in Toppan!
For the ambassador’s visit, the Toppan Rare Books Library had one item to display that related to Tunisia: a historically important political pamphlet from 1550. The title of this four-page newsletter is Il vero et ultimo aviso della presa d’Affrica, and it describes (in Italian) how Spanish and Italian forces successfully captured the fort of Mahdia, Tunisia, from the Ottoman Turks. The bookseller from whom we recently purchased this little pamphlet stated that there is no other copy of it known in the United States (ours is from the “Prince Liechtenstein” library, originally sold in 1970 by H.P. Kraus of New York). The title page includes a medallion woodcut of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles 5th and the back page has a woodcut map of the Mahdia fort (with a prominent mosque inside the walls).
This fort was important strategically because the Ottoman Admiral Turgut Reis used it as a base for pirate raids against the Italian and Spanish coasts. But while he happened to be away plundering the coast of Valencia in June of 1550, Andrea Doria and Bernardino de Mendoza–with help from the Knights of Malta–took the opportunity to try and seize the fort. It took until September, with reinforcement troops coming in from both sides, but the Europeans finally breached the walls. Three years later, however, Charles 5th ordered the fort to be dismantled. Although an ephemeral looking item, this document is actually an important reminder of the long-time tumultuous history not just of the Tunisian region, but also of the relations between Christians of European nations and Muslims of North Africa and the Middle East.
Materials from our manuscripts collections for the Ambassador’s visit included mid-1920s photos of Tunisia, from the papers of geologist Winthrop Haynes. Haynes was a petroleum geologist, professor of geology, author of many publications on stratigraphic and structural geology and paleontology, and a World War I aerial photographer. In 1920, Haynes joined Standard Oil Company of New Jersey and first worked in Mexico, then transferred to Europe as chief geologist, eventually traveling to Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa inspecting existing oil fields and prospecting for new sources from 1922 to 1936. Part of the years 1925 and 1926 were spent in Tunisia and the collection includes photo albums which provide a rich documentation of Tunisian street scenes, people, sites, and documentation of the Chiba Dome drilling area and camp.
Several tables of these mostly identified black and white photographs, maintained in good condition in photo albums, were on display for the event, and the photos, despite their age, resonated with the participants. The visitors pointed out to us buildings and scenery that are still recognizable today (including a popular café). We also displayed Haynes diaries and notes from his time in Tunisia which include comments on travel conditions, weather, and of course, oil drilling. Some of his U.S. passports from this era were also included in the display.
In all, the AHC has twenty-one boxes of material dated 1880-1981 in the Haynes papers. His travels and experiences are well documented through field notes, reports, journals, expense books, maps, and more than 5,000 photographs. A large quantity of personal correspondence also describes these travels, in the form of logs and diaries sent to his family weekly back in the U.S. In addition to materials related to geological exploration and production in oil fields around the world, the collection also includes Haynes U.S. Army Service files and photographs taken after World War I in France, and materials related to his years as a student at Harvard and later as an instructor and/or professor at Radcliffe, Kansas University, Wellesley, and Harvard.
The Haynes papers are fully accessible for research, and a detailed guide to the collection is available online.
There! That pretty well explains the Wyoming and AHC connection to Tunisia, don’t you think?
–Mark Greene, Anne Marie Lane, and Ginny Kilander